Norwegian honour to sing Eric’s praises

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Eric von Ibler, singing teacher to the stars, has been honoured with a Norwegian knighthood.

Eric von Ibler was born in Edinburgh on May 3, 1954. His father, a German merchant seaman, had been in Jersey towards the end of the Second World War and was brought to Edinburgh and interned in Musselburgh. When the war was over, he stayed on and in 1950 married a divorcee whom he had met when she accompanied her sister, a popular singer who was performing for troops and PoWs.

Sadly, Eric’s father died in a shipping accident in 1955 when Eric was just 13 months old.

He was educated at St Mary’s Cathedral and then won a scholarship to Daniel Stewart’s College. He went on to the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama in Glasgow, where he was the first graduate counter-tenor. But his studies included organ, harpsichord, piano and conducting as well as singing.

Eric won scholarships for further study in singing – first in London with Professor Roy Henderson, who taught the famous contralto Kathleen Ferrier, then in Salzburg with Emmy Loose. He then embarked on a successful singing career, based in London, but travelling extensively on the continent, singing both oratorios and operas.

Three weeks standing in for a colleague, taking classes at the Royal Academy in London made Eric decide he wanted to teach as well as sing. “It was like opening a door,” he says. “This was what I really wanted to do.”

He was given a teaching post at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama in Glasgow – now the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland – and moved back north in 1980, basing himself in Edinburgh.

Eric taught singing to stars including actor Alan Cumming, South Korean opera tenor Paul Han, Australian opera soprano Jenna Robertson and Royal Opera House director Lee Blakely.

In 1983, Eric founded Schola Cantorum, a professional singing group, which performed with New York’s Mark Morris Dance Group at several Edinburgh Festivals.

He also teaches singing one-to-one at Edinburgh University and for the past 14 years has conducted the Edinburgh University chamber choir, but will hand over the reins after a concert on May 3, his 60th birthday.

He continued with his own singing until he was 50. The honour from Norway came as a “complete and utter surprise” he says. Eric first visited Norway as a ten-year-old chorister at St Mary’s, when he sang a solo on Norwegian radio. He returned several times, including as a student to sing Handel’s Messiah and in 1984 with Schola Cantorum for the international church music festival.

Eric was made a Knight, First Class, of the Royal Norwegian Order of Merit, the highest Norwegian international honour, for his services to vocal and choral music.